Nearly five months into 2018, the U.S. has seen over 18 thousand gun related incidents.
That number comes from the non-profit Gun Violence Archive which tracks each individual incident in which a gun was used in an effort to “provide free online public access to accurate information about gun-related violence in the United States.”
According to the Gun Violence Archive, 72 of those incidents have been mass shootings. The worst shooting this year was at a high school in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed when a shooter open fired.
The Parkland shooting has brought the ever-present debate over gun laws in this country once more to the forefront of political discussion.
Gun laws vary from state to state and the consensus seems to be that there’s no easy answer to this problem, as Kent City Council-at-Large member Gwen Rosenberg said.
According to Giffords Law Center, in Ohio, the laws leave room for transfer of a firearm between private parties without a background check. Firearms dealers aren’t required to obtain a state license and the state does not limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time. There is no waiting period on firearm purchased or regulation of ammunition sales.
When buying a gun, the process if fairly simple. You pick the one you want, test the feel of it in your hands, and sign some paperwork.
A conversation with a local shop owner.
Larry John is the owner and manager of Sporting Defense, LLC. The store was opened as a family run store in 2012 in Kent and offers services such as cleaning and installing mounts as well as selling and buying firearms.
In Ohio, anyone over the age of 18 can purchase a long gun, such as a 22-shotgun assault style weapon, and anyone over the age of 21 can purchase a handgun.
“That involves your semi-automatic, revolvers, single shots, whatever you may choose,” John said. “Those are the basic rules, but the federal rules as well.”
When applying to buy a gun, a person must submit to a background check. However, despite suggestion that mental health is a component in gun violence, the background check doesn’t ask about mental health. The application does ask for standard things such as place of birth, race, ethnicity and whether the person is under indictment for a felony.
In Ohio, transfer of a firearm between private individuals doesn’t require this background check. For a shop owner like John, keeping track of when each firearm that comes in and goes out of the store is a priority.
“I keep track of every weapon that comes in, who I bought it from,” he said. “Every weapon that leaves and who I sold it to and when.”
However, the means of getting a conceal carry permit in Ohio is not a difficult process. John said the process is only a one day, eight hour class that consists of classroom time and shooting time.
“It’s actually amazingly easy,” he said. “For the most part that class is sanctioned by the (National Rifle Association) and it involves the anatomy of a firearm, just to let you know basically how the thing is constructed and how it functions.”
The class teaches would-be gun owners when they can and can’t use their firearms, at what distance it’s legal and the repercussions of discharging a weapon.
After the class, a visit to the Sheriff is expected. Here another background check is run, fingerprints and a picture are taken and a conceal and carry permit can then be issued.
“And you, for the next five years, can carry a firearm,” John said. “And, as long as you keep getting it renewed, you can continue to keep carrying a firearm.”
John said the class can change a person’s perspective on gun ownership because it teaches the responsibility of having a firearm.
“A lot of people, before they take the class, think ‘oh, it’s going to be great, I have a weapon, I can shoot people if I must,’” John said. “The reality is you are responsible for every bullet you launch from the time you launch to the time it stops. Anything it hits, it is your responsibility. Anything it damages is your responsibility.”
The responsibility of owning and discharging a firearm is an important one because of the impact it can have on someone’s life. John said that understanding this impact can make it more difficult for a responsible gun owner to want to fire a bullet.
“When you start to realize that your entire life can end with a firing of one bullet as you know it,” he said, “You tend to be very resistant to let that bullet go.”
Timeline: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) provides data privacy and security provisions for the sharing of medical information. HIPPA establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and history.
Following the shooting in Newtown, Conneticut in 2012, work began on an amendment to HIPPA’s privacy rule. The amendment clarified who could share data with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was created to prevent guns from being sold to prohibited individuals, such as felons or people found to be “mentally defective” or had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
Below is a brief history of HIPPA:
Kent’s City Council Urges Lawmakers to Act on Gun Violence
On March 13, the members of Kent’s City Council drafted a letter in response to the Parkland shooting which was sent to legislative representatives at the State and National level.
“In an instant on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida we were tragically reminded of the frailty of the most vulnerable among us,” the letter reads. “We could not be there to protect them but as our nation mourns and searches for answers to the latest act of senseless gun violence we must not fail them again — for as the nation argues, children are dying.”
All nine members of Council and Mayor Fiala signed the letter before it was sent. It was also posted to the City Manager’s blog.
“As an elected official of this city, there is a possibility of ensuring the safety, the welfare, the economic liability of our community and I take that very much to heart as do our other council people,” said Gwen Rosenberg, Council-at-Large for Kent City Council. “In our role as elected officials in this community it is our obligation, speaking for me, it is my obligation to do something to ensure the safety of our residents including students; college students, high school students, elementary students, middle school students.”
City Council doesn’t have the authority to pass laws other than ceremonial legislation. The inability to change the rules themselves prompted the council to draft the letter and send it to legislators.
“Our elected officials at the state and federal level had that ability (to create laws) and have thus far not done it,” Rosenberg said. “So, the letter was a letter from our city on the behalf of residents and us, as elected officials, to say; ‘there is a need for this.’”
The hope was that the letter would bring residents’ concerns into the light and make a clear statement about the need for change.
On March 26, the council received a letter from Congressman Tim Ryan in response.
“We see that horrific acts of gun violence can happen anywhere, to anyone,” Ryan wrote in the letter. “As the young students in Florida have courageously said, the time for thoughts and prayers has passed. It is time for Congress to act.”
In the letter, Ryan expressed his own concerns and outlined his support for increasing funding for NICS, a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault rifles. Ryan is currently cosponsoring H.R. 3947, the Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act, which would “prohibit the possession or transfer of certain firearm accessories that enable mass shootings.”
“As someone who enjoys hunting and shooting sports,” Ryan wrote. “I know that semi-automatic rifles and pistols with military-grade features have no place in the hands of civilians.”
Ryan also argued for overturning the Dickey Amendment, which was passed in 1996 and prevents the Centers for Disease Control from researching gun violence.
“No parent, child, friend, or teacher should be forced to worry about their safety or the safety of their loved ones while going about their daily lives,” he wrote.
“The fact that Congressman Tim Ryan replied to us, I think it is really indicative that he recognizes a problem,” Rosenberg said. “I thought he replied specifically to what it was we were asking and said some of the ways that he would address it.”
Outside of legislation, work is being done locally to safeguard against tragedies like Parkland here in Kent.
“People should not feel unsafe,” Rosenberg said. “We drafted a joint resolution that publicly states that Kent City Council and the Kent city schools have a shared priority, which is school safety.”
Rosenberg emphasized the want to work together to ensure a safe environment for students.
“Our police department, our fire department already is very, very actively involved in our district,” she said. “We wanted to publicly reaffirm our city’s commitment.”
This includes education for students such as Active Shooter Response, or ALICE, Training and random patrols from police at local schools to help make students familiar with the officers in their neighborhoods. A brochure on the initiative, “City of Kent & Kent City Schools Partners in Public Safety,” says that “[o]n average, Kent Police Officers perform 30 drop-in school visits each week.”
Rosenberg says the important thing is to find common ground and build from there.
“Can we agree on more research? Can we agree on different types of legislation?” She asked. “Let’s just start from there and see what grows out of it.”